Whoever said Germans don’t have a sense of humour had obviously never heard of the comedy duo Marx and Engels. The pair’s satirical works may be over a hundred and fifty years old, but their style is a refreshing change from most modern political humour in that it is actually funny. Their most famous piece is a mock-pamphlet entitled The Communist Manifesto.
In this irreverent yet insightful little book, the authors cast themselves as harbingers of an insurrection. They lampoon the kind of self-anointed messiahs who barge onto the political scene from time to time, believing in the inevitability of a revolution, and in their own exclusive brilliance to pull it off. The old victim/oppressor conflict is reworked here as the problem the communists have come to solve. Using the excruciatingly pretentious language you’d expect from real political philosophy literature, they outline the problems of the current system and the need for an overhaul. Basically the issue is (and see if you’ve heard this one before) the evil rich minority owns everything and makes life miserable for all the decent people. The proposed solution is to abolish private property, and submit ownership, rule and regulation of everything to a centralised government. The means to this end is the overthrow of the current ruling class—as violently as necessary.
Some of the views set out in the manifesto are absurd, yet not far removed from many found in politics today—though today’s are rarely spoken so honestly. Marx and Engels’ spoof of political idealists is hilariously (and a little frighteningly) accurate. They shine the spotlight on typical partisan biases, attitudes like:
If you value wisdom and compassion you’ll agree with us; if you criticise us you are ignorant and bigoted.
Your dreams of utopia are childish and unattainable; our utopian vision is certain and triumphant.
When you tried these ideas you did them wrong; we will do them the right way.
The Communist Manifesto also points out the glaring truth to which romantics are apparently blind: human beings aren’t perfect. Even the best plan risks failure as soon as human beings get involved (exhibit A: the Garden of Eden). With the cooperation of billions necessary for communism’s success, failure is all but guaranteed. The only options for the revolutionaries then are to admit defeat and change the plan, or, preferably, save face and kill everyone who opposes it.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto is witty, well thought out, and the delivery is spot on. My slight concern though is the humour may be too subtle—God forbid anyone should take this book literally! I will have to remove marks from my final rating, as I’d hate for this review to inspire a real-life attempt at a communist revolution. Someone could get hurt. 2/10
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